Olmsted Bridge Closure

The bridge leading over Olmsted Island to the overlook
Olmsted bridge and the Great Falls  Tavern Visitor Center welcome at least a million visitors each year.

NPS Photo | Monica Larcom

Olmsted Island Bridge to Close Around March 1st

Great Falls Overlook to close during construction

Here is some preliminary information about the construction that will be taking place on the bridge.

You can also read the Olmsted Bridge Closure Press Release.

What is the PLAN?

Purpose? [Why are we closing the Olmsted Bridge?]
  • We are making much-needed repairs to the 24-year-old walkway to keep visitors safe. Repairs include restoring bridge railings, repairing the concrete bridge deck and one of the bridge’s concrete foundations.
Length? [When are we closing, and how long?]
  • The bridge is expected to close on or around March 1st and remain closed until early July. The original re-open date was late June, but the closure had to be extended due to weather delays.
Alternative Activities? [What can I do instead?]
  • Several great hiking trails in Maryland also provide views of the river (but not the falls) on the Maryland side including the Overlook Trail, River Trail, and very strenuous Billy Goat A Trail (no dogs allowed). There are many programs offered at Great Falls Tavern as well.
  • The Great Falls are also visible from the Virginia side of the Potomac.
Next Step? [What are the future benefits?]
  • These repairs will make sure the Bridge is more resilient to nature and provide our visitors and staff with a safe provide a safe, accessible, and enjoyable path to view Great Falls.

Interested in learning more about the project? Here are our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's):

What repairs are being made?
Repairs include restoring bridge railings, repairing and refinishing the concrete bridge deck, and repairing one of the bridge’s concrete foundations. For safety reasons, the bridges will be closed because it will be an active construction zone. Closing the bridges during the length of the construction project allows for the contractor to complete the work more quickly because additional safety installations to accommodate visitors won’t have to be provided.

How will this project benefit park visitors?
Once complete, the project will provide a safe, reliable, and enjoyable path to view Great Falls. Noticeable improvements will be a sturdier bridge railing and a smoother concrete walking surface on the top of the bridge deck to promote accessibility. The bridge’s surface will be covered with a non-slip coating to aid in safety and traction for visitors.

Why is it necessary to close this area during the project?
Since 1992 the bridge has served visitors well with repairs. However, preventative maintenance is now necessary to provide future visitors a safe, enjoyable experience. Conservative estimates put visitation at a million visitors or more coming to the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center area each year.

When will the project begin and end?
The design for the project began in late 2016. Construction will begin on or around March 1st 2017 and go on for 90-120 days. We anticipate completing construction in July 2017. During the construction, the bridge to Olmsted Island will be closed to the public. The National Park Service is doing everything possible to minimize closure time and impacts to visitors. However, the project is dependent on good weather for a speedy construction process.

How much does the project cost?
The project costs just over $763,000 and is funded by the National Park Service’s rehabilitation and repair program.

How will this project impact natural and cultural resources?
The Olmsted Island bridge provides safe and secure access to the Great Falls while helping protect endangered plant species on the island. The unique ecosystems in the Potomac Gorge including Olmsted Island are home to plants that exist few other places in the state and even in the world. There are 97 state and globally listed plants in the Potomac Gorge area, many of which are found right on Olmsted Island. The bridges and walkways of Olmsted Island keep these endangered plants safe. This project will help preserve these unique resources, and allow for their enjoyment by park visitors.

What is the park doing to protect those resources during the project?
National Park Service resource-protection experts have reviewed the project and recommended measures to protect this delicate environment. All work is being limited to a five-foot radius of the bridge to protect the rare plants on the island. Additionally, a containment structure will be constructed to catch debris generated from construction to keep it from entering the river. Every project undertaken by the National Park Service is conducted in compliance with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), and other regulations.

Where else can I go to experience Great Falls while the area is closed?
The National Park Service has alternate areas to view the Great Falls on the Virginia side of the Potomac at Great Falls Park. There are additional hikes along the Maryland side of the Potomac that offer beautiful views of Mather Gorge, Conn Island, Washington Aqueduct and other scenic destinations. These include Billy Goat Trail Section A, the Overlook Trail, the Washington Aqueduct Observation Deck, and the River Trail. Views of the Great Falls will be directly accessible from Great Falls Park, Virginia, on the other side of the Potomac during construction.

The Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center will continue to offer talks and programs in alternate locations while construction is ongoing. Please see the map of Great Falls area for additional details on the alternate trails and viewing areas of Great Falls.

What is the history of the Olmsted Island bridge?
A series of five connected bridges leads visitors across channels of the Potomac River to Olmsted Island to view the Great Falls. Visitors have been traveling to this site since the early 1800’s. Bridges going out to Olmsted Island have been damaged repeatedly due to floods, with the last major destruction of the bridges occurring during Hurricane Agnes in June, 1972. The bridges were constructed and re-opened in the summer of 1992. Repairs have been continually made due to repeated floods, especially the floods of 1996.

Who can I contact if I have further questions or concerns regarding the project?
You can contact Pete Peterson, Supervisory Park Ranger, Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center at 301-767-3714 [the Tavern main line] for more information.

A map showing the Olmsted construction and Great Falls region
This map describes the construction area and shows the many other alternative hikes, loops, and scenic views.

NPS | Andrew Landsman


Last updated: June 19, 2017

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